Phish Plays Telluride

“Trip Tent” Revived

When Phish returns to Telluride next week, they will be bringing tens of thousands of “phans” with them. It’s been nearly 20 years since the band has been to this tiny mountain town, but when they last played here in 1991, their following (phollowing?) was still cozy enough to fit in the ballroom upstairs in the old Elks Lodge.

This time, the band and its entourage will be bursting the seams of Telluride Town Park and the natural amphitheatre at the town’s east end. Every hotel room, camping spot and free couch has been spoken for, and scalped tickets are going for more than $500 online. The whole town, from business owners to lucky locals with tickets, is buzzing. The scene is reminiscent of the Grateful Dead shows here in 1987, which we memorialized in our magazine’s summer edition.

Another thing will be reminiscent of those shows: the “trip tent.” Back then, at the Dead shows in Telluride and elsewhere, the trip tent was run by the Hog Farm folks. (According to the Hippie Dictionary, a trip tent is a refuge for people tripping on LSD or other hallucinogens, a place where they can escape the crowds and ride out the drugs’ requisite paranoia.) Telluride’s law enforcement officials are reviving that tradition during the Phish concerts, putting up a tent where people can peacefully come down off their high. It’s a practical solution to a potential problem: Telluride is a town of about 2,500 residents, and during the Phish shows (9,000 tickets were sold for each night) our population could be from five to ten times that. We don’t really have the medical or legal infrastructure to deal with non-emergency problems with drugs: Telluride has no hospital, just a med center and a helicopter, and a tiny county jail known affectionately as “Bill’s house,” after longtime county sheriff Bill Masters. (Masters is a libertarian and pragmatist who wrote a book called “Drug War Addiction: Notes from the Front Lines of America’s #1 Policy Disaster.”)

At least one blogger took exception to the idea of having a trip tent, saying it was focusing on the “embarrassing part of the scene.”  Phish, like the Dead, have phans that range from the graying middle-agers who first drank the band’s Nectar in the 80s to the phresh phaces of today, who are sharing in the band’s 2009 Joy. The crowds run the gamut from professional partiers to people who pass out after trying nitrous for the first time.

But there’s no need to be embarrassed in Telluride. We’ve seen it all, and besides, the mountain air is cold enough that most people keep their clothes on. So think of the mountains that surround the valley like giant arms and feel a warm, welcoming embrace as you enjoy what is sure to be the highlight of Phish’s summer tour.

Let the Gamehendge begin.